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Intro: Welcome To SMUSA Scholarships

Stephen Murray USA Scholarships have worked tirelessly for close to a decade to build up an impeccable reputation, and is Ireland’s leading US soccer scholarship agency.

SMUSA offers a bespoke personal service for potential student-athletes to follow their dreams and head over to a college or university in the United States.

Stephen himself has helped his clients gain over €10 million in scholarships over the last eight years, and if you are interested in the scholarship route, don’t hesitate to sign up.

In this article, we have sat down with Stephen and aim to bring you more information about our background in the scholarship industry, and answer any questions we feel you may have:

Firstly Stephen, it’d be good to start with a bit of background about yourself in the scholarship industry?

I’ve been involved for the last eight years as a consultant, but 20 years in the industry altogether, between going over on a soccer scholarship in 2001 in Memphis, Tennessee, and then after I graduated, I played professionally in the USL with the Wilmington Hammerheads, and then continued in Croatia. I’ve also coached in college football, in the junior college route, so I have an extensive background in regards to that.

Coming back go Ireland in 2012, I then started as a consultant with PASS4Soccer, which then brings me up to this point. In that time, I’ve been able to coach as well in the Tyrone Super Cup and now I’ve just been appointed as the Glentoran Women’s First Team Coach as well, so it gives me the balance of recruiting players and being in this industry.

Do you feel the scholarship route is well known in Ireland?

I do feel that the scholarship route is really well known, but I just don’t think many people understand the insides of what it takes to get a scholarship, like the eligibility side of things. Yet again, having a consultant with my background, with extensive knowledge in regards to the whole system, is very important. There are other agencies out there that provide a service, maybe not so much in Ireland, but around Europe in general, and they look to recruit Irish players.

However, it is very important to be working with somebody who is one the ground in the country on the ground that is doing this full-time because we’re not just sending players over to the US, but we’re also assisting and helping them while they’re over there. For the players now that are currently playing in the League of Ireland and other leagues, they get to Under-19 level and then there’s not many options after that in regards to playing first-team football.

These are the players that need to be educated more about what routes are out there, if they stay in education for university or do a master's degree, the pathway is still there at the age of 22 or 23. It’s my job to educate these people, and go out and talk to them about

You’ve been a consultant yourself for almost a decade, what makes you so driven still after all this time?

It’s been almost nine years that I’ve been involved in this industry as a consultant, and it’s always about the networking and connections that you make throughout that time, which keeps you going. At this point, nobody compares to me in Ireland in regards to the level of contacts that I have, the referrals that I get from players that I’ve sent over to the U.S. That’s such a big factor with how this industry keeps going.

You’ve got other guys that are starting up businesses that come in just after coming back from college with very limited background in regards to helping kids down this route, so for me, it’s about building a future for these kids, and hopefully give them a platform to push on and get the education, but also play top-level football too. When they come out of that, there’s the opportunity to come back to Ireland, play as well or even get involved in this industry in some line of work. That’s something that I foresee for my own passion in regards to helping kids going forward.

What will you be bringing to the table with SMUSA?

We’ll be bringing a more bespoke operation, where it’s a bit more personal with all of our clients. We’re not building this up based on having big numbers. We want the quality, but also good student-athletes that are going to be able to go over there and survive. I’ve seen so many kids these days that are going over and come back after a few months because they’ve been very badly advised elsewhere.

We want to make sure we do in-depth background checks on our clients and get to know them, and their families, so when we’re sending them over to the U.S. to coaches, we know exactly what we’re sending and coaches then can’t turn around and tell us that the player isn’t what we told them we’d be sending over. That’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing.

It’s not just all about the scholarships with SMUSA, we’re also going to be running Tours over to the U.S. as well to give kids the opportunity to go over and experience the student-athlete life first-hand and play against these universities. We also have extensive knowledge of being able to potentially help players out playing semi-pro during the summer out there too, or even after they’ve finished college, opening other doors for them. It’s not just about getting our clients out on scholarships, but it’s also about providing the support and helping them during their time over there and also after college too.

You brought Mikie Rowe on board to work as a senior consultant, what do you feel he will bring to the company?

I think it’s very important to have somebody that has been in this industry in regards to playing and going down the university route. With Mikie’s background, he went over unsure if this was the route for him and now it’s opened up so many doors for him. He was a top player with top academics, and ended up being an NCAA Division II Player of the Year, so his background – coming out of that Under-18s and Under-19s bracket - is what a lot of young kids will look at and aspire to follow and see their alternate options.

Mikie is 24 now, is playing professionally here in Ireland and has a degree in his back pocket, so he’s going to add so much more in terms of communicating with some of the younger players because he’s still on the same level as them in regards to the information that he can relay to them. One of the biggest things about Mikie is his personality, he’s got a really good personality. He comes across very well, he’s genuine, and everything he says, he still lives in the moment, so he’s very much detailed into what the life of a student-athlete would be like for these players in the U.S.

For me, bringing Mikie on board was a no-brainer. Anybody that comes on board with me, trust is a big thing and that’s one thing I found with Mikie, which is hard to find these days. When it comes down to it, I believe that Mikie will continue playing where he’s at, but also be able to help me with the potential of going full-time in the future once his playing career comes to an end.

How important was it for you to bring someone in that knows the scholarship route and shares the same passion?

I’m all about bringing people on board that share the same outlook as me and have experienced it. When I’m building my team of people around me, right now they’ve gone through the system, graduated over there and lived it and now they’re back and wanting to help, rather than just doing it for the sake of doing it. They have to be very like-minded, it’s a very good tool in regards to giving these kids a platform, but if we’re not all on the same page, it’s not going to work. Someone like Mikie, with all his attributes, they’re the people that sell this for kids with giving them the right information and what is needed to get over there.

Was it also about bringing someone in with the same beliefs, unlike many companies on the market?

It’s definitely important to touch on others that we’re competing against in the industry, ones that are targeting players through social media, messaging them, and I don’t think that it’s right to be selling players a dream without talking to their parents first, especially when they’re under 18-years-old. It’s something that I’ll be making sure, going forward, that most of the clients I deal with and look at have been referred to me by other people or I’ve gone to watch them play live. We have assessment days, but even that’s not going to give you a full outline of the character of the player and person. You see their ability, but you’ve got to see much more than that, so that’s what we’re going to do in regards to the way we run things going forward. We’re very much extensive on the video footage and making sure we get to know the background of the player.

How important is it for players to consider this route as one of their options?

Most people look at the scholarship option as a Plan B, with the idea of going professional, but if you want to get into an environment to get a good education, a good degree, but also play in a full-time environment and have everything at your disposal in regards to facilities, level of play, the climate, exposure, and everything that goes with that, this route is for you.

Especially for those Irish players that get to the age of 18 or 19 that face the possibility of not continuing on into first-team football. This scholarship avenue gives them that perfect opportunity of a four-year time frame that they can go over into a full-time environment and then come back at 22 or 23. You have to have options, but I definitely believe players need to start and look at this option as a Plan A, especially for the higher-level players that have played international football at youth level or have played at a high level in Ireland.

Going to America is not a downgrade in playing, it’s not a downgrade in the system. When it comes to the American system, the platform for them is to go to college and then continue on playing professional after that. A lot of players you see in various leagues around Europe, like the Premier League, have gone down the college route, whereas in the UK, you could get signed up at 16, released at 19 and then you’re left with absolutely nothing.

Where do you feel the company will be in the next few years?

I’d like to think we’d have built the company up to be sustainable moving forward. I’m always thinking of fresh and new ideas, bringing people on board to really help with this operation. It is something that has been built, the foundations have been there over the last eight or nine years in regards to what I’ve done, everything is in place.

Ideally, in the next five years, I’d like to think we would continue to be the number one consultancy in Ireland, in regards to if people are looking at the U.S. route, they will look at SMUSA for getting help, assistance, and knowing the system over there. It is something that I see more and more these days, coaches talking to Irish players, even those who have gone through another company, will get in touch with me because they know my background in the industry having been in it for such a long time.

I’ll always give an honest opinion on what level a player is at. Where we’re at, at the moment, will be very good, but where we’ll be in five years' time, I do firmly believe that this will be the main company coming out of Ireland, and maybe even further than that with assisting and helping get kids over to America.


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